Protecting Financial Accounts in the Face of Alzheimer’s

What do you do with financial accounts when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? This question is becoming more pertinent by the day as we live longer.

The issue of protecting assets that had heretofore been shared is a delicate one to be sure. We have seen any manner of difficulties arise as investors become less capable, including spending addictions; or the opposite -giving away joint assets; inappropriate trades, or simply misplacing or misunderstanding accounts (annuities are particularly tricky); forgetting passwords; incurring debts or forgetting to pay bills, etc.

A plan for Alzheimer’s ideally begins before anyone is affected. An easy way to start is with how assets are titled, allowing more than one person to have a measure of control over accounts. However, if you have an estate plan, be aware that you can defeat that plan if you change titling that your attorney has recommended. Another approach might be to grant another party power of attorney in some form. POA’s come in different strengths and should also synch with your estate plan. In extreme cases, and where you can gain cooperation with the affected patient, a conservatorship or trust may be in order.

Keeping an eye on transactions and accounts on a daily or at the very least a weekly basis is another possibility. This scrutiny has the added benefit of allowing you to watch for hacking fraud as well. Often you can sign up for email or other alerts as transactions process in credit card, bank, and investment accounts. Just be sure that the device you use to accept these alerts is itself well protected from theft. Don’t forget to watch for Social Security payments to arrive too. Those of us who do not receive SS yet aren’t tuned up to watching for it!

Credit card limits can be lowered, to help prevent overspending; and someone should monitor bills and billpaying activity so items do not go into arrears. Automatic bill paying from a checking account can be employed in some cases, but even this should be monitored as amounts can change, resulting in overdrafts.

Although it sounds self serving, an investment manager who is tuned in to the aging investor can cast a watchful eye on the situation frequently (we watch every account every day) and make suggestions as needed. If you bank at a branch where the personnel are stable and you know them, sometimes a banker can be drafted to duty, alerting a co-owner of suspicious activity. Be aware that no one will talk to you about accounts on which you have no authority – that’s where joint titling comes in handy.